The C of I Goes to Florida: A Student Perspective

C of I Environmental Studies major Conner Jackson provides a first-hand account of a recent C of I study away class exploring coastal marine ecology in Florida. Click here for an accompanying photo gallery.

Along the beach, the sun dripped down over the still ocean before us. I noted the ocean birds flying low to the surface of the water—seemingly in a line back and forth across the horizon—in my field journal and posited questions as to why that might be. When the bottlenose dolphins’ fins rose up, I realized there must be fish out there, and I took great joy in making that realization. The group of us still on the beach then proceeded to look expectantly through our binoculars out into the distance, hoping to see the dolphins rise one more time before the sun set. Our experiences in that setting fueled our nightly discussions held at Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory, which just so happened to be in an abandoned civil-war era lighthouse on an island two miles off the coast.          

The experiences I remember so vividly at Seahorse Key continued throughout the duration of our two-and-a-half week Coastal Marine Ecology course, a special College of Idaho class that I and 17 classmates participated in during Winter Term. After a week-and-a-half of preparatory coursework introducing us to the basics of the ecosystems we would be soon visit, we flew south to Florida in the heart of winter and greeted the warm temperatures and lush green forests with open arms. Then, we proceeded to study and experience the various coastal marine ecosystems present in sub-tropical Florida, from salt marshes to shallow estuaries to coral reefs.

There were many highlights of the trip, not the least of which was having the opportunity to ask our questions of the day over dinner with our professors. We snorkeled with manatees and barracudas. In Big Cypress National Preserve, we got waist-deep in dirty swamp water and came away smiling. Alligators, which are rarely seen in Idaho, became so commonplace that I ceased to even notice them as I was riding my bike along a trail in Everglades National Park. On Marathon Key, we saw up and close and personal the detrimental effects of jet-boating in shallow sea grass waters in the form of injured sea turtles that were rehabbing at the Island’s Turtle Hospital.

Above all, we learned how to how pose questions and be observant in the places we were exploring from a broader ecological perspective. While standing on the ferry back from Seahorse Key, I thought about how all things are connected. Florida has such a unique and complex web of species and surrounding interactions. Being there made it easier for me to understand that such is the case in all places of the world. By the end of the trip, I concluded that learning about the ecology of a place frequently leads to a broader understanding of one’s own life.

Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. The C of I has a legacy of academic excellence, a winning athletics tradition and a history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars and 14 Marshall, Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. For more information, visit